The North Monastery has won the best project and chemistry award at SciFest 2016 competition, held in the Cork Institute of Technology (CIT). SciFest is a science initiative which fosters inquiry-based learning among second level students. The 2016 event in CIT showcased 140 projects from 300 secondary school students, ranging from 1st year to 5th year, from 26 schools across Cork city and county. The winning project was entitled “A Remote Smoke Alarm System” and the students that did the school so proud were Elvis Nzekwe, Harold Ibarlin and Filip Gajd.
The project involved the development of an innovative smoke detection system that can remotely notify the homeowner using text messaging and voice calls that there is smoke within their home. The students developed the project using skills they acquired in their science lessons, in particular to the physics section of their course. In addition, they were also provided with extra-curricular teaching and training in coding and electronics which resulted in them, having the ability to develop a relatively complex system that utilised a wide range of skills for example, soldering, the interpretation of wiring circuits and its implementation, proto-tying of circuits, coding and the debugging of code. This training was the necessary platform for which the students developed their project.
In technical terms the system is capable of sensing smoke using a digitised light sensor, carbon monoxide sensor and a temperature sensor and all these readings were then relayed to a microcontroller (tiny chip that acts as a computer) where appropriate decisions are made. One of the key features of the project was a GSM (Global System for Mobile Communication) module which essentially is an electronic unit and this was the basis for the development of the mobile phone technology, utilised in the project.
Overall, there was a considerable degree of coding required in reading data from the sensors and in producing the appropriate response, in terms, of alerting danger to the homeowner off-site. Getting the logic and thus the coding right involved many hours in the laboratory. This was achieved by testing the student’s project against a commercially available product where smoke was filtered into a chamber and both the student’s device and the commercial smoke alarm had the same amounts of smoke. Then data from both systems were compared and it was proven that the student’s project worked repeatedly under these scientific conditions. This was an extremely important result as it validated the students project scientifically.
Also first years Paul Sunday, Daniel Dennehy and Jordan Woodgate did the school proud by winning the Chemistry award. Their project was entitled “To Determine the Levels of Carbon Monoxide in Cork City”. This project was truly inquiry based as the students developed their idea by observing a cloud of black smoke that was lingering in the air caused by a car’s exhaust fumes. They were curious as to what type of gases were in this gas cloud.
They learned that one of the gases liberated into the atmosphere was Carbon Monoxide (CO) and this prompted a debate in class, in how best to data-log Carbon Monoxide, during rush hour traffic. The data logger system they developed was also based on a microcontroller system which they programmed and wired to a CO sensor that was capable of determining actual concentrations of the gas. In addition, they also incorporated a GPS module that was also programmed to establish exact coordinates for areas of elevated levels of CO gas. This data was then uploaded online, in generating a satellite image of the terrain walked and a visual representation of CO levels could be seen along their route, taken. So far the students have found that Cork City is well within the safety limits of CO levels, but they are still testing, so time will tell!
Overall the skills students have developed are of a strong technical nature. The North Monastery has always had a strong tradition in the STEM subjects from its very beginning and these students are good examples of this ethos.